The Importance of Recline Angle in Car Seats

Recline Angle Indicators



Did you know that 75% of car seats aren’t used correctly? That could mean the child isn’t properly buckled in, or the car seat isn’t installed correctly. Car seat installation can be tricky. Rear-facing car seats must be installed at the proper recline angle to keep the baby safe.

For the child to be safe in a rear-facing car seat, the seat must be upright enough to protect a baby during a crash but reclined enough to prevent their head from falling forward potentially obstructing the child’s airway [1]. The correct recline angle for most car seats is typically between 30-45 degrees from upright, but this varies from one seat to another [1]. 

To get the correct recline angle for your child’s seat:

  • Refer to the car seat’s manual for installation instructions.
  • Once the rear-facing seat is installed, check the recline indicator on the car seat itself to verify that the seat has been installed at the proper recline angle for that seat [1].
  • If the car seat has multiple “zones” of recline based on the age range of the child, be sure that you adjust the seat to be in the correct recline “zone” for your child’s age [1].
  • Periodically check your seat through continued use to be sure that your installation remains secure, and the seat remains at the correct recline angle. As your child grows, you may need to adjust the angle per the manufacturer’s instructions. Please read the instructions of your seat to know if this is needed [2].

Most rear-facing only infant seats and convertible car seats have built-in recline angle indicators on the car seat, however they may not all look the same. Some recline angle indicators may look like a construction level where the bubble needs to be between two specific lines [3]. Some are color “zones” with a ball that will roll into the correct color when reclined correctly [3]. Some are a dial that will shift and point into the correct color zone or between two lines to indicate the correct recline angle [3]. Some car seats have a line stamped into the plastic on the side of the car seat that will serve as a reference to have that line level with the ground for the seat to be properly reclined [3]. Refer to your child’s car seat manual to ensure you are reading the recline angle indicator correctly [2].

Another reason that it is important to install and use the car seat at the correct recline angle is because car seat manufacturers crash test the car seats at those recline angles [3]. Therefore, they are designed to keep your child safe in a crash when the seat is in a vehicle at that recline angle based on the car seat’s performance in crash tests done by the manufacture at that recline angle [3].

Parents, be sure your child’s rear-facing car seat is properly installed at the correct recline angle according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For more car seat safety tips, visit